Childbirth And Coronavirus: The Pandemic’s Toll On Atlanta Mothers And Midwives

The coronavirus pandemic has made pregnancy and childbirth more complicated and stressful for mothers who don’t necessarily want to deliver in a hospital.

Lily Oppenheimer / WABE

Women going into labor at metro Atlanta hospitals can expect limits on the number of relatives, spouses, or birthing coaches who can be close by during the coronavirus pandemic.

For high-risk pregnancies or mothers with existing health conditions like hypertension and diabetes, delivering in a hospital is their safest option, according to Dr. Denise Jamieson, an obstetrician at Emory Healthcare. 

“Even during a pandemic, a hospital or licensed birth facility is the safest place to have a baby,” said Jamieson, who practices at Grady Memorial Hospital.

“For women who may be worried or concerned about coming to a hospital during this pandemic, it’s really important to understand that labor and delivery units are taking many measures to ensure women are safe.”

Jamieson said labor units are increasing physical distancing between staff on elevators and people in waiting areas. Some labor units, she said, are even testing women to see if they have the virus.

“I understand that women are nervous and anxious about coming into the hospital, but I want to reassure them that we’re taking every measure possible that having a baby here remains the safest option,” she said.

At-Home Births

Yet hospital systems like Piedmont, Grady and Emory Healthcare have also heightened visitor restriction policies. Piedmont Health is not allowing any visitors, with a few exceptions. Obstetrics cases in many hospitals allow one visitor to be present during labor and delivery. That means women must choose between a spouse, family member, or a birthing coach like a doula or midwife.

Concerns over restrictions, hospitals overwhelmed with coronavirus patients and health care workers reusing personal protective equipment have many expecting mothers worried about their own protection from the virus. Many, according to a certified professional midwife, are opting for at-home births.

“Since the pandemic, I’ve been getting anywhere from five to 15 calls a day.”

Tracy, a certified professional midwife 

Tracy, who asked that her last name not be used, is just one out of about 35 CPMs across Georgia, due to midwife license restrictions statewide.

But Tracy told “Morning Edition” that even though midwives are not as present in Georgia as other bordering states, the demand for reliable, certified midwives still exists. Tracy said calls from mothers seeking at-home delivery support have increased in recent weeks by nearly 40%.

“We have women call and say, ‘I know I’m high-risk, but I want to be at home,’” Tracy said.

“As a midwife, I will only take someone who’s low-risk.”

Midwifery is focused on low-risk mothers who prefer at-home, out-of-hospital births. To be a midwife, one has to be certified and have a minimum of two years of clinical training. The average apprenticeship, which includes didactic and clinical training, typically lasts three-to-five years, and all CPMs must meet standards for certification set by the North American Registry of Midwives (NARM).

Tracy said that she and other CPMs are taking precautions to curb the spread of coronavirus during at-home visits and prenatal care appointments. That includes virtual video calls, allowing for 30-minute windows between appointments to sanitize, and screening women for symptoms of COVID-19 before each essential in-person visit.

At the moment, Tracy said she has about 16 mothers relying on her for care in the Atlanta area – and the pandemic has completely changed her line of work. She’s seeing more fear-driven women calling her to avoid delivering in a hospital.

“It’s definitely made me have to spend a lot more time talking with women, talking with their family members,” Tracy said. “I’ve had grandmothers calling me, crying, not wanting their daughters to go to the hospital and have their babies there.”

She said at-home births are definitely on the rise here amid the pandemic.

“Typically, in a normal week, I get one-to-four inquiries,” Tracy said.

“Since the pandemic, I’ve been getting anywhere from five to 15 calls a day.”

Providing A Forum

One Atlanta surrogate mother, who is 22 weeks pregnant, understands how soon-to-be moms need to vent.

Lauren Hise is an Atlanta surrogate mother who created a Facebook group to support moms pregnant and stressed during the coronavirus pandemic.
Lauren Hise is an Atlanta surrogate mother who created a Facebook group to support moms pregnant and stressed during the coronavirus pandemic. (Courtesy of Lauren Hise)


Lauren Hise calls herself a baby consultant and started a Facebook group to help expecting moms navigate the challenges ahead. 

On the page, Hise said mothers are stressing about separation anxiety and isolation in the hospital. If a baby is taken to the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU), mothers can’t even see their child post-birth under certain circumstances.

“I’m providing a forum for moms to be able to talk and express their feelings,” Hise said.

“Women may not realize that they have postpartum depression, or they may be anxious. Just staying connected to other parents and professionals, I think, is key for a parent’s mental health and survival.”

Clarification: This story has been updated with clearer language about visitor policies that can be expected at metro Atlanta hospitals.